Oversized Load From Space: How a Toyota Tundra Pulled the Space Shuttle Endeavour

By Trevor Dorchies | October 16, 2012
When you own a truck, you tend to see many more friends, both old and new, who all of a sudden need help moving something. Case in point: Toyota's friend, the California Science Center, recently needed a little help moving something last Friday, and asked it if could borrow the company's truck for an evening. Of course, this wasn't just a camper, trailer, or an unfinished project car. It was the Space Shuttle Endeavour, and it needed to be towed across an Interstate 405 overpass. You read that right. The iconic Shuttle needed to get from a hangar at Los Angeles International Airport to its final resting place at the California Science Center 12 miles away by way of city streets. Here's where the Toyota Tundra came into play. Towing something as huge as Endeavour from LAX to the Science Center took the same amount of planning as actually launching the Shuttle into space. Normally, the Tundra can pull up to 10,000 pounds of whatever you need moved, but the Space Shuttle Endeavour weighs in at close to 300,000 lb.; for a "real world" comparison, that's like 30 full grown elephants. Combine the weight of the Shuttle and dollies with that of the transporter that was responsible for pulling everything and you get a staggering amount of pressure put on the road surface below. The California Department of Transportation laid steel plates down along the Endeavour's route through the city to ensure the road surface would hold up, but steel plates wouldn't help when it came time to cross an Interstate 405 overpass. Toyota offered up its full-size pickup in an effort to help reduce the convoy's overall weight. It also gave way to one of the craziest marketing schemes in the history of pickup trucks.
So how did the Tundra do it? Did it just hitch up to the Endeavour and go on its merry little way? Why, yes, yes it did as a matter of fact. Just like any other trailer you have towed, Toyota's crew backed the truck up to the front dolly that was carrying the Endeavour, and after some initial rigging, the Tundra was ready to cross the bridge. In the truck's bed was a 1,700 lb. weight to put extra pressure on the rear axle for added traction, but it should be noted that the Tundra that pulled the Endeavour was exactly like the ones you'll find at the local Toyota dealership. When asked and pressed repeatedly, Toyota never wavered saying the Tundra in service was bone-stock, and you could buy one as-is to do the same thing. Y'know, if you ever need to pull a space shuttle. The Toyota Tundra CrewMax that managed to get the Endeavour going was equipped with a 5.7-liter V-8 engine rated at 381 horsepower. A towing package along with A-TRAC and Toyota's limited-slip four-wheel drive system rode along as standard features, which also included a 6.5-foot bed as well. Toyota's driver for this was Matthew McBride, the same guy who piloted a Tundra up an uphill spiral ramp in the last memorable commercial concerning the full-size truck.  McBride left the Tundra in 4-Lo, shifted it into drive and before you knew it, both the pickup and the Endeavour were creeping along at 2.5 mph. Admittedly though, it looked much faster than that, which may have been a good thing since the crew only had seven minutes to get over the bridge before city officials would start to sweat.
Besides the Tundra being bone-stock, the only assistance provided to both the dollies and the Toyota was an airbrake that was controlled by someone in the truck. A guy was also responsible for walking alongside the Endeavour to steer the dollies with a joystick but no other assistance was provided to the truck itself or to the dollies. We even had a chance to check out the interior firsthand and can confirm the truck was exactly that of what you can expect to find out on the dealership lot.The Endeavour only needed a lift from the Tundra for a quarter of a mile so once it got moving, it only had about eight lanes worth of traffic to cross. Even still, pulling a space shuttle with a half-ton truck is no easy feat, but a little easier than you may image.
It all has to do with torque on the initial start-up and the Tundra has plenty of that (401 lb-ft of torque to be exact). That's Toyota's secret; a healthy dose of torque, four-wheel drive, and its A-TRAC system all got the Tundra and the Endeavour moving at what was supposed to be a snail's pace. Instead it was an impressive display of American-made muscle (the Tundra, including all of its parts, are made in San Antonio, Texas) moving at a faster-than-expected pace with cheers of "USA! USA! USA!" escaping from the crowds that gathered to watch.

I still don't believe it. We have these pieces of poo as work trucks and they have a hard time pulling an 14ft haulmark...let alone a space shuttle.


It reminds me of the old Timkin ads showing a girl pulling a 50000 pound boxcar that was equiped with Timkin roller bearings.